Elevating Excellence

Part of motivating any team is actually doing something. Organizations that get stuck in paralysis by analysis—or worse, a simple inability to create the inertia needed to act—will drive good people away. People, especially cause-oriented people, want to see things happen in a deliberate manner. People want to be associated with winners who are moving forward—not organizations dying a slow death.

A related issue arises with regard to problem people. The simple fact is the greatest executive in the world may not be suited to be a member of your team. A team has to be just that—a team. In some cases, a great executive doesn’t want to be a part of a team and needs to go do his or her own thing. In other cases, personal issues, integrity issues, outside distractions, etc., can get in the way of good employees acting that way. However it happens, problem employees are a big issue. The problem too often is worsened by an organization that sucks its thumb instead of doing something about it.

I subscribe largely to the Jack Welch views on employment. A significant part of a leader’s time should be used identifying, developing, and motivating good employees. Oftentimes, when an employee is not a fit in a particular job, the organization should make every effort to find the right situation for that employee—either within or outside of the organization. Also, leaders need to be clear with employees about how they are doing. This is hugely difficult to do. But we owe it to our employees.

However, when it becomes clear that an employee does not fit and is not a valued member of team (for whatever reason), act quickly and decisively. It is all too easy to put on the pastor’s hat, hug the employee, and hope things get better. They rarely do.

I recently read a biography on Warren Buffet called Snowball. In the book, it was clear that Buffet hated confrontation and hated firing people. He is known for buying companies with good managements and letting them run the business. However, good management occasionally goes bad. Buffet learned the hard way a few times that “thumb-sucking” (doing nothing and hoping a problem goes away) does not work. It is best to act quickly and decisively to confront problem people.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of this. Remember, good teams are made up of people with options. If those other team members feel like you are going to leave bad apples in place, the good ones will leave to get a better environment. Now you have two problems instead of one problem, and the snowball is starting downhill.

In addition, the problem employee will inevitably begin to cause problems outside of your organization. Bad people are noticed and will create a negative impression of your organization and you.

I recently encountered this issue in one of our business partnerships. We had been having difficulty working through our partner’s legal department to get contracts done and checks written. Worse, one of our partner’s lawyers was sending off offensive emails that made me question whether to terminate the deal (which could be lucrative for us and our partner). After digging into everything, I found out that this company’s legal department had caused them to lose other deals before our partner fixed the problem. It will be difficult to earn back the money that was lost and even harder for our partner to regain their industry reputation. The lesson is clear.

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